Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
When our eldest was in middle school a friend invited him to her church’s youth group. It’s grass roots ecumenism. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good experience. They watched some kind of movie or film and eventually ended up discussing the future and the environment (all this somehow related to what they had just watched). It did not end well because it appeared that the majority of the young people present really did not believe that the environment mattered that much. It did not because we all live for heaven anyway.
The problem with this is that it leads into some kind of Gnosticism where the spirit is important but the material world is not. Of course, if the material world does not matter, then we can indeed live as if there were no tomorrow, or more to the point, live as if the earth and all that is in it was actually ours and not God’s.
There is another way of coming at this same point. In a sermon on this text Stanley Hauerwas suggests that we have come to read spiritual as opposite to flesh to mean to be anti-body, anti-sex, and anti-pleasure. And he muses that if this was indeed what it meant to be spiritual we would be pretty much alone with the things that matter, like the body, sex, and money.
Of course, we know that the New Testament has lots to say about these things, which means that being spiritual cannot mean to be against the body, or against this life, or against this world, for if that were the case God would not have become human in Jesus and the Bible would not be so interested in the life of the redeemed.
When Paul wrote this letter he was addressing the question of division between Jews and gentiles, which is why he spends a great deal of time discussing God’s covenant with Israel, which ends with the conclusion in chapter 11 that all of Israel will be saved. The question of division in the church was important to Paul because he knew that division would impact the mission of the church, and as he had used Antioch as his base for the eastern Mediterranean, so he intended to use Rome as his base of operations in the western Mediterranean. Of course, the church today knows about division and it may very well be because of the fragmentation of the Christian family that our mission is not more effective.
I would think that the church’s mission would be equally ineffective if the church were concerned about the soul and not the body, offered prayers but not bread, and instead of celebrating God’s presence in its midst only looked forward to heaven. It is precisely that kind of thing that robs the church of its authority. The Anglican bishop N.T. Wright likes to say, ‘heaven is great but it’s not the end of the world.’
And we must understand that when Paul talks about the spirit and the flesh he is not speaking against matter, against the body, or against the world.
Rather, when Paul speaks of the spirit and the flesh, he is talking about a life in God, a life in which the spirit of God dwells as opposed to a life that is stuck in it’s own way, that is bent in on itself, despite law, or good intentions.
Paul says that if Christ dwells in us, we belong together.
For a people that sought to be distinct and different and better, for moderns who did not want to appear too Jewish, and Jewish Christians who did not want to appear too Gentile it must have been difficult to live together, just as it may be difficult for us to live together and say my brothers and sisters in Christ are my family, even if they may be not be everything I would wish them to be.
Coming to this place where Paul wants to lead us when he assures us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus makes it possible to receive the other and to receive the other’s gifts.
That in itself is a marvellous gift of reconciliation. It is where we no longer live according to the flesh even though we are in the flesh but live according to the Spirit.
And so what happens when Paul affirms that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus is that we know we belong together, and belonging together allows us to stop fighting each other, to stop competing and coveting, and to share bread with one another and with the world, whether the bread is for South Sudan or forest fire evacuees, whether it is for refugees here of for folks in the downtown east side.
And so the resurrection life of which Paul speaks takes form in us so that we can honour our body as well as the body of others and all of creation.